The media is hanging its head in shame this week over the DNA test results that reveal John Mark Karr’s innocence in the murder case of JonBenet Ramsey.
But it’s difficult not to create blaring headlines when so few advances have been made in a case that already spans 10 years. In this respect, who can blame them?
It’s hard to disbelieve a man who confesses to one of the most infamous crimes of our generation. Karr’s child pornography charges weren’t combating his claims either.
It seemed clear to every media outlet that this was the guy and they could heat up the presses. And they ran with it. But they put all their eggs in one basket before there was any real evidence.
When the story broke, the front page of the New York Daily News screamed, “SOLVED.” Of course, this is the New York Daily News we’re talking about – they sensationalize
information if they know it’s going to sell. And sell it did.
Yet on a positive note, the media doesn’t have to be ashamed for their behavior. They’re in the business to do two things: inform and sell. The New York Daily News’ example is one sure-fire tactic to achieve the latter.
Yet while selling newspapers is one thing, disobeying a classic adage is another. Whatever happened to “innocent until proven guilty”? Granted, it’s difficult to refer to Karr as innocent while he’s willfully admitting to the crime, but there was no scientific evidence at the time he was apprehended in Bangkok, Thailand.
The press is obviously well-acquainted with the mentally unstable – they should have been more careful.
But getting carried away cost the media a lot in terms of credibility, not to mention man-hours and resources. The online publication “Editor and Publisher” stated in an article that Karr’s name searched on Google resulted in 10,800,000 matches. That’s nearly 11 million articles or other published works that were flat-out wrong about what they were reporting.
A mistake like this, whether it was understandable or not, rocks the industry. The fact that millions of articles were written about a man who turned out to be lying is a huge blow to the industry.
It shouldn’t make them ashamed, but it should incite a re-evaluation of what the media prints and how they print it. It’s the duty of the news to print the facts – not what they think is going to happen. Despite Karr’s statements, during the storm of sensational headline printing, Karr being JonBenet’s killer was not among the facts.
Whether outlets should be ashamed for their ultimately incorrect speculations or forced to rethink the contents of what they print, one thing is for sure – John Mark Karr took the media for a ride.